It's difficult to overstate the fundamental impact that the LS engine family has had on the high-performance world. Its tremendous airflow capability coupled with attainable tuning solutions has made what used to be the stuff of banner headlines commonplace. Five-hundred horsepower in a street car? A decade ago, that would have been trumpeted on the covers of car magazines. Today, your Chevy dealer has a couple of used Z06s collecting dust that deliver better than that. And a camshaft swap into a lowly Silverado work truck will get you there, too. It may be difficult to believe, but prior to the LS engine, the Chevy small-block never even cracked the 400-horsepower level. The vaunted 1970, solid-lifter LT-1 engine topped out at 370 horses and the later LT4 engine found in the 1996 Corvette Grand Sport and Collector Edition models was rated at a mere 330 horses.
So, even in a world where 800-horsepower street cars seems to be plentiful as sand on a beach, our heads still get turned when we hear about a combination that crosses the magical 1,000-horsepower barrier – to the tires, no less. That's what happened when Cleveland tuner Aleks Vulovic told us about his fourth-gen Camaro SS. Better still, it wasn't an LS car he was talking about – it was his LT1-powered 1996 Camaro SS. That's what 383 cubic-inches and 22 pounds of boost will do for a classic small-block; and Vulovic chronicled his quest for a grand to the tires in a series of well-done videos that are loaded on YouTube (search for his channel under the name "lethalinjectionllc").
"Come on out and check out the car for yourselves," he told us. "It runs hard." The prospect of romping around one of the Midwest's classic industrial hubs in a 1,000-horse LT1 was all the encouragement we needed and faster than you could say "Cuyahoga River," we had our camera bags for "the Cleve." When we arrived late last summer, we found Vulovic prepping the Camaro for a midnight run after our photo shoot down to the LTX Shootout. Impressively, the car was very adept at serving double duty as a streetable cruiser. Its diminutive racing radiator wouldn't be practical for stop-go-rush hour traffic, but the car performed great as we snaked around the edges of the metro Cleveland for our photo locations.
"With the tune dialed in, it's surprisingly docile," says Vulovic. "Cooling system upgrades will iron out the everyday and long-distance kinks with the half-size radiator. For now, I have to focus on dialing in the suspension."
Of course, this car was made to run on track and to ensure those 1,000 horses – actually, it's more like 1,200 horsepower at the flywheel – remain corralled and not scamper about the starting line with chunks of the LT1 block behind them, Vulovic had to do more than double-check the torque specs on the intake manifold bolts. The first step was shoring up that block and filling it with a stout rotating assembly. For that, he turned to Fremont, Ohio's Gressman Powersports, which machined the block and replaced the stock two-bolt main caps with a set of splayed four-bolt caps. The shop also built the long-block assembly, starting with a forged Compstar crankshaft – Callies' more economical line of forged parts – it is the lynchpin for the 383 makeover inside the block and works with a set of forged JE pistons and Compstar rods.
The pistons squeeze the pressurized air charge into the combustion chambers of a set of CNC-ported TrickFlow GenX 200cc cylinder heads at a boost-friendly 8.5:1 compression ratio. The LT1-specific 23-degree performance heads handle the engine's reverse-flow cooling pattern, and feature 200cc intake runners, 63cc combustion chambers and 2.055/1.60-inch valves. The rest of the valvetrain includes 3/8-inch hardened pushrods, a set of stiff double valve springs, COMP Cams' 1.6-ratio Pro Mag rocker arms and a complementing stud girdle. The camshaft is a solid roller piece from Bullet, with 254/250-degrees duration, .605/.600-inch lift and a 114-degree lobe separation angle.
Vulovic uses the stock LT1 intake manifold, although it's fitted with an Arizona Speed & Marine 58mm throttle body and a set of Delphi 95-pound fuel injectors. The headers were scratch-built to match the custom turbo system. They're made of 1-3/4-inch mild steel and merge into 2.5-inch collectors. The also supply the turbine-spinning exhaust gases to a T-4 (turbine housing size) Precision Turbo PT-88 turbocharger – a model name that denotes an 88mm inducer compressor wheel.
The turbo is mounted up front, in the nose of the car, as that's just about the only place such a large turbo will fit in the fourth-gen chassis. The bell-style air intake protruding through the front bumper is definitely for the race-track, so it unquestionably draws some quizzical stares on the street. The turbo is matched with a custom liquid-to-air intercooling system, including the requisite ice-water tank to help really lower the boosted intake air charge. Texas-based Bell intercoolers made the heat exchanger to Vulovic's specifications, while Vulovic himself painstakingly mocked up the route for the intercooler's tubing before sending the aluminum sections out to be welded. Aluminum tubing is more susceptible to damage than steel tube, but it dissipates heat better, to help keep down the intake charge temperature. That's a big concern with a system blowing 22 pounds of boost into the engine on 109-octane race gas (14 psi on pump gas). Engine control is overseen by a F.A.S.T. system that Vulovic has become very adept at tuning.
Through the series of YouTube videos, he provides an excellent overview of the trials and tribulations encountered on the way to a 1,005-rwhp chassis dyno pull, including a comparatively disappointing 533-rwhp/7-psi test that pointed to ECM issues. Like a smart tuner, Vulovic crept up on his performance goal, testing the water instead of diving straight in. With the replacement F.A.S.T. ECM, Vulovic borrowed some chassis dyno time at Ohio Technical College, where the car put down a more encouraging 620-rwhp at 7 psi. Another test session on another dyno yielded 978 rwhp at 19 pounds of boost – and a slipping clutch.
"The engine had the power, but the single disc clutch couldn't hold it (updated to the Street Twin after dyno testing). I knew I would be over 1,000 with a better clutch, but I didn't want to go home without hitting the 1,000 mark. To reach my goal, I let the clutch cool down for a good long time and slightly increased the boost before attempting another pull," he says. "That did the trick and we recorded the 1,005-rwhp number at 22 pounds of boost with 857 lb-ft."
Backing the engine's four-digit output is a Donnato Engineering-modified T56 six-speed manual that's been fitted with a Viper output shaft and carbon-Kevlar synchros. There's also a McLeod Street Twin dual-disc clutch that helps channel the pressurized LT1's torque to a Moser-built 12-bolt that's been equipped with an Eaton Detroit TrueTrac diff – with its helical gear design – and a 4.10:1 gear set. There's also the usual lineup of chassis parts to support the powertrain at the track, including a BMR K-member, torque arm and trailing arms as well as QA1 drag shocks.
Not surprisingly, Vulovic reports he was experiencing launch and traction issues at the LTX Shootout, which was the car's first track outing since reaching the lofty horsepower goal. He didn't go home with any great time slip numbers, but learned a lot about trying to harness 1,000-rwhp through 10.5-inch tires. "The acceleration is frightening," he says. "I never drove a turbo car before and knew I wasn't going to be competitive my first time out, but I wasn't going to miss the LTX Shootout. I've got some work to do, both learning to drive the new combination and getting the suspension to work, that's for sure."
After achieving more than 1,000 horses to the tires in an essentially home-built LT1 project, we've got to believe Vulovic is up to the challenge – and we're looking forward to the video updates of his progress. "The car is constantly evolving and improving, and I look forward to every minute of it – and recording it," says Vulovic.
|Car:|| 1996 Camaro SS|
|Owner:|| Aleks Vulovic|
|Block:|| LT1, 383cid|
|Compression ratio:|| 8.5:1|
|Heads:|| TrickFlow GenX LT1 CNC ported, 2.055 intake, 1.60 exhaust valves|
|Cam:|| Custom solid roller, 254/250-degrees duration, .605/.600-inch lift, 114 LSA|
|Pushrods:|| 3/8-inch hardened|
|Rocker arms:|| COMP Cams Pro Mag, 1.6 ratio|
|Pistons:|| JE, forged|
|Crankshaft:|| Comp Star, forged steel|
|Rods:|| Callies Comp Star, forged steel|
|Throttle body:|| AS&M 58mm|
|Fuel injectors:|| Delphi 95 lbs/hr|
|Fuel pump:|| Weldon 2025|
|Ignition:|| MSD 6AL|
|Engine management:|| FAST (classic ECM), tuned by the owner|
|Power adder:|| Precision Turbo PT-88|
|Intercooler:|| Bell custom air-to-water|
|Wastegate:|| HKS GT-II 60mm|
|Exhaust system:|| Custom turbo manifolds, 4-inch downpipe, SLP 2OTL catback (street)|
|Transmission:|| T56, built by Donnato Engineering|
|Clutch:|| McLeod Street Twin|
|Driveshaft:|| Dennys "nitrous ready" steel|
|Front suspension:|| QA1 coilovers, BMR K-member, control arms, stock sway bar|
|Rear suspension:|| BMR torque arm, lower control arms, Panhard bar, QA1 shocks, stock springs|
|Rear end:|| Moser 12-bolt, 35-spline axles, 4.10 gears, Eaton Detroit TrueTrac diff|
|Wheels:|| Weld Pro Star 15x3.5 front, 15x11 rear|
|Front tires:|| 165 R15|
|Rear tires:|| Hoosier 28x10.5 slicks|
|Fuel:|| 93 pump or VP 109 (unleaded)|
|Race weight:|| 3,650 lbs.|
|Best ET/mph:|| 11.0/138|
|Best 60-ft. time:|| 1.8|
|Current mileage:|| 96,000|
|Miles driven weekly:|| 10|